MARTIN O’Neill struggled to contain his sense of loss in his post-match Press conference last night, after seeing the prospect of a Wembley FA Cup semi-final slip through his hands.
And his hurt was made worse by the fact he felt his players let themselves down on the night – a below-par performance he just hadn’t seen coming.
“Everton were better than us, deserved to win the game and we didn’t perform well enough,” he observed.
“We didn’t perform at all and that’s really disappointing.
“If you’d asked me on the morning of the match, I would have said I thought we were ready for the game,” he said.
“The players were in great spirits, they were relaxed and looking forward to the match.
“And that’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to take – us giving a display like that when Wembley was such a big incentive to bring out the best in us.
“We’d done so well in the original tie at Everton to get to the replay stage and done so well in the previous round, against Arsenal.
“But we didn’t perform on the night against Everton at the Stadium of Light and we paid the price.”
A failure to do the very basics of the game to a high enough standard was at the heart of what went wrong for Sunderland as Everton kept up the pressure throughout with a high-tempo display.
“You have to be able to control the ball, to pass it well, to receive it well and to do it under pressure in games like this and we didn’t,” said O’Neill.
“The first goal is very important in games of this type and you can’t deny the fact that Everton were very strong.
“But there was not much between the two sides up until the goal and the disappointing thing about that goal was that we could have had possession three times in the build-up to the ball ending up in the back of the net.
“The second goal knocked the stuffing out of us, but there was no getting away from the fact that Everton were better than us throughout.
“When we did play, we didn’t play well.
“We had opportunities to play, but when you keep missing with your passing it’s frustrating – the crowd get frustrated, the players get frustrated and, for us, it was all just very disappointing.
“We should have been able to pass the ball better and control it better. And what disappoints me is that we never gave ourselves a chance.
“The reality is that even if you pass it and control it well, you can still get beaten because Everton are a very strong side.
“But we didn’t even do that – we didn’t give ourselves a proper chance of winning the game and that’s the most frustrating aspect of the night.”